State Opioid Laws & Prescribing Limits

Can limiting pain pill prescriptions reduce the overall number of deaths associated with abuse of opioids? We take a look at example states and offer an overview: If it works… all states should follow suit!

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Should State Lawmakers Limit Opioid Prescriptions?


As the death toll from opioid overdoses continues to escalate, lawmakers are proposing legislation to limit opioid prescriptions for treating acute pain. In most cases, opioid prescriptions are limited to either a 3 or 7 day limit depending on the state.

Some physicians are relieved to have these restrictions in place so they have a valid excuse for not prescribing opioids to patients who demand them. Others believe these restrictions will affect patient care by physicians being burdened with repeated appointments for refills.

Here, we’ll take a look at the current landscape. I’ll review some basic guidelines and lessons learned. Finally, I offer some insight into how the laws might create new markets for illegal drugs…and new problems. More from former DEA agent and Drug Diversion expert, Warren Rivera, here. Then, we invite your questions or comments at the end. We try to respond to all questions personally and promptly!

State Legislations That Currently Limit Opioids

Legislators are taking notice of the opiate epidemic in the United States and are huddling to create new laws to limit opioid prescriptions. Some states that have already enacted legislation to limit opioid prescriptions are:

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Rhode Island
  • Virginia

Ohio is currently seeking legislative approval to limit opioid prescriptions to 7 days. Prescribing physicians must also complete eight hours of training on opioids and addiction as well as provide addiction treatment in Ohio. Other states are requiring mandatory continuing medical education relative to addiction disorders in addition to limiting opioid prescriptions.

Kentucky is another state that recently enacted legislation to limit opioid prescriptions to a 3 day supply in treating acute pain. Louisiana is in the process of enacting legislation to limit initial opioid prescriptions to 7 days. It seems that this trend is contagious and will likely continue in all states, particularly if the outcome shows a reduction in opioid overdoses.

Opioid Abuse Creates the Need for New Laws

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2 million Americans ages 12 or older had a substance use disorder involving prescription painkillers in 2015. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 33,000 individuals died from opioid overdoses in 2015, the year which the most recent data is available. The CDC also estimates that 91 Americans die each day from overdoses deaths from opioid painkillers or heroin.

Physicians are on the front line of this opiate crisis and are being forced – through legislation -to reduce the amount of opioid prescriptions written for pain not associated with cancer or terminal illness. So will limiting opioid prescriptions reduce the number of deaths from accidental overdose? It appears logical since there will be less opioids available for diversion and abuse. Limiting opioid prescriptions is a step in the right direction to combat this opioid epidemic.

What About Chronic Pain Patients?

What about individuals suffering from chronic pain? The new legislation in most states does not limit opioid prescriptions for chronic pain patients. In some cases, patients being treated for acute pain may also be exempt from the 3 or 7 day limit. For example, the proposed law in Louisiana would allow for individual exemptions for acute pain when medically appropriate with a note in the patient’s record indicating that a non-opioid alternative was not appropriate.

But Laws Create New Drug Diversion

Individuals addicted to opioids who are no longer able to obtain pain pills from a physician often turn to the streets to find a new source for their fix. Addicts need to remain hyper-vigilant due to the extreme amount of lethal fentanyl being sold on the street. Keep in mind the drug dealers could care less about the well-being of their customers.

The drug dealers are in it for one reason.


Dealers are selling counterfeit oxycodone pain pills that are actually composed of clandestinely produced fentanyl. The death toll in America is rising due to this phenomenon.

Should Laws Limit Rx Painkillers?

So should the law limit opioid prescriptions? If this new legislation limiting initial opioid prescriptions will reduce the overall number of deaths associated with abuse of opioids, then all states should follow suit.

However, the legislation should allow physicians to continue to prescribe opioids in situations when they believe it is medically necessary as long as the reasons are documented in the patient chart. This legislation also creates heightened awareness in prescribers about the dangers of opioid abuse and diversion. It is burdensome for physicians to have mandatory training and more frequent refill appointments for patients who are prescribed opioids, but if it saves lives, it is worth it.

About the Author: If you would like to learn more illegal drug trends, how to prevent the diversion of pharmaceuticals or receive training from a retired DEA Special Agent Drug Diversion Expert Warren Rivera, please visit or


Reference Sources: Cleveland: New Ohio rules limit some opioid prescriptions to 7-day supplies
Cleveland: Ohio lawmakers push opioid prescription restrictions, online addiction counseling
ACP Internist: States aim to limit opioid prescriptions
ASAM: Opioid Addiction – 2016 Facts & Figures
Hospitals & Health Networks: 6 Ways Kentucky Is Aiming to End the Opioid Scourge in 2017
Louisiana: Gov. Edwards Releases Legislative Agenda that Advances Family Values
About the author
Warren Rivera is a retired Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Rivera is an experienced public speaker, trainer and an expert in the diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances. Mr. Rivera currently owns Training Idea, LLC, a private consulting firm that provides training on DEA matters to the healthcare industry, law enforcement and the community.


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  1. In regards to this matter I wish someone could or would give me an answer. I don’t think that by reducing the meds to people that have chronic pain is going to solve this problem. It’s going to make more people turn to the streets to get their meds. The drug dealers don’t care about the people they care about the money that’s never going to change bottom line. The people who truly suffer from pain are the ones that are being affected by these laws and it’s not ok to do to us. The law makers and the DEA need to come up with a better solution because this one isn’t helping the people who really do suffer. Please think about us. Thank you

  2. II have nothing to with the people that are buying off the street. I get mine legal from my dr and why should all of the patients have to suffer cause if idiots that don’t get meds from a dr so the people that do are bring cut! Thats not right at all! The DEA better figure out another way to solve this problem not take it out on us who do have chronic pain and need our meds!What does my legal scripts have to do with this epidemic? Why am I being punished along with all the other people with chronic pain have to do with it. Why are we being cut our meds? It’s not fair at all?

  3. I still do not understand why the people that truly need their medicine have to deal with these insane laws. We are not out on the streets trying to buy them yet we have to suffer because people do not take these drugs correctly. That is not our fault and we are the people who have to pay the price. We are getting our meds cut back or not getting done if our meds at all. We have to live in pain because other people scree up?

  4. Hello, thank you for the update. I don’t know anything about fentanyl I don’t take it never did and don’t want to. Anywho I do care about all of us that have chronic pain, these laws are ridiculous I mean a three day supply is the DEA out of their minds? Like I said before I would like to know what they would want to take if they had chronic pain like we do. The government should stay out of out medicine cabinets. As far as the drug dealers they have been around since the 1930’s and they will be here until the end of time! Bottom line. Don’t take it out on the people that do need the medicine.

  5. Our Gov’t has no business in our medical business. I as a chronic pain patient have already been told by a friend that our dr. of several years cut her medications back this past month, and also let her know that in 2 months they will be cut back again. So I know that when I go in for my appt. next week the same will happen to me. My friend has already told me that she will have to go to the streets to get enough medication to get by now that our Dr. is doing this to us!!! So how is all of this solving the problem, when all they are doing is making it even more dangerous for the ones that go to “the streets” to find relief. Please let us have our medications back so the large portion of people will not end up doing illegal drugs to supplement what the Dr;s are taking away!!!

  6. I totally agree with everyone on this sight! I would like to see what is in the government medicine cabinets!! When you have chronic pain it’s horrible! Then they want to give a 3 day supply. Are they joking, really? What the hell is 3 day supply gonna do? Don’t they have more important things to worry about going on in this country!? I think they do!

  7. I find it outrageous that as a patient with chronic pain my physician is telling me he cannot by law provide more than x number of pills over X number of days. Is actually results in a reduction and how much medication I am able to purchase. Legislation and the opioid crisis have caused this. However our legislators has failed to account for people with chronic pain. My next option is a spinal stimulator implant. I do not want to have a foreign object implanted in my spine with a control device sending electrical impulses to control my pain. I’ve had multiple surgeries I do not want another. When will our Representatives recognize that we as patients of chronic pain are not the criminals? I want the federal government and the state government out of my medical business.

  8. I totally agree with what that man Chris said. I was hit by a huge dump truck and almost died. I have chronic pain! I don’t think it is right to cut people who truly need the medicine. I take oxycodone for my jaw, right shoulder, back cause I have three dics that are totally messed up and I get shots and my my medication. It’s not right to do this to people who really need the medicine. It’s wrong on so many levels. Yes there is an epidemic of abuse but not by the people like me and that man Chris who’s message I just read. Don’t hurt the people that really do need it. There are some days that my hurts so bad it’s hard for me to get out of bed and you the DEA want to take my medication away. Not right at all.

    1. Hi Susan. I totally agree with your and Chris. People who suffer from chronic pain and use their medication only as prescribed by a doctor shouldn’t get caught in the middle of the whole opioid crisis.

  9. In the last year I have found it increasingly difficult to fill my monthly prescription of Oxycontin. It is not uncommon for me to have to call several different pharmacies to find one that has the medication in stock. Some months I have to wait days until a pharmacy receives a shipment of Oxycontin. The Kmart pharmacy does not even carry Oxycontin any more. It seems as if patients with legitimate chronic pain are being put in a situation of suffering due to the increased legislation and scrutiny. I firmly believe that there is an opioid abuse epidemic going on in the United States, but the measures being taken are making it progressively more difficult for chronic pain patients to get their legally and medically needed medications.

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